STI Member Profile: Forging Strong Partnerships and Opportunities

Vest Kaz Sawai STI Member Profile: Forging Strong Partnerships and Opportunities
Kaz Sawai, General Manager, Vest Inc.

For over 50 years, Vest Inc. has been creating products for the steel industry, but it didn’t rest on its laurels. It is constantly forging strong partnerships and looking for new opportunities to help better meet its customers’ needs.

“[Our focus at Vest is to] become a true business partner in meeting our customers’ tubing needs,” says Kaz Sawai, general manager at Vest. “In order to be a true partner, you have to understand what the customer’s needs are. Where’s this tubing being used? Who’s buying it? How is it being used? And really taking that extra step. I think that leads to better, overall service. That leads to a partnership.”

Sawai knows a thing or two about partnership. Currently in charge of sales and marketing, purchasing, and production control at Vest, he previously worked at a trading company importing from Asia. For about 15 years, he frequently traveled overseas to China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Understanding people, their needs and the true value of trust was a necessity. “I spoke Japanese, but [with] a lot of people in other countries, we had communication issues because we didn’t speak the common language. But we all spoke the language of steel, and it really was eye-opening for a young person like me.”

To help meet the needs and demands of its customers, Vest offers HSS structural tubing from 1 ½” to 10” square, structural pipes from 1 ¼” to 6” at ASTM A500 grade, ornamental tubing from ½” square to 3” square at grade ASTM A513, and mechanical rounds from ⅝” round to 4” round. As a special offering, it can make an A1085 grade as well as unique oval shapes in its ornamental tubing.

Vest Inc., a Steel Tube Institute member producer

Something especially exciting for Vest is its new mechanical mill planned to open in early 2023. Replacing some of the older equipment, the brand-new mill will produce tubing sized from ½” square to 2” square and should be operating as soon as the second quarter of 2023.

And that’s not the only initiative coming — Vest is doubling down on its sustainability efforts. It’s approaching its partners throughout the supply chain to ensure that sustainability is top of mind for all in the industry and doing its best to hold them accountable. Vest is even looking at renewable energy improvements for its own facilities. 

“I think next to price, quality and lead time, sustainability will become a key factor in our industry players’ decision-making process in the future. By being an industry leader and setting the standard for sustainability, this could become our next big competitive advantage in the worldwide steel market,” says Sawai. “Because so many products made from steel are a vital part of our daily lives, we have a great responsibility as an industry to produce steel as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Today, U.S. steel products are the cleanest in the world, and we’re going to have to continue to be the industry leader in that regard.”

As far as its longtime partnership with Steel Tube Institute, Vest views its membership as invaluable. “My predecessor, Chris Knox, always said that we have to play our part in it and contribute,” says Sawai. “We just can’t be on the sideline. And that has really resonated with me. We want to put in our fair share of effort into the industrywide effort to promote the very products we sell.”

This membership also comes with its perks. “A lot of what STI does is behind the scenes,” says Sawai. “It’s the code work they do and the marketing and the education. They’re reaching out to schools now, getting younger engineers at a young age to understand what our structural tubing product is and the benefits of using it. And these are efforts that day to day we don’t have the resources to go out and do by ourselves.”

When asked his favorite STI resource, Sawai answered confidently. “The HSS Capability Tool is one we lead our customers to the most and, more recently, the HSS tolerance brochure. The most important thing about that is it shares how to measure not just the tolerance numbers themselves but also how to correctly measure the tubing. So whenever there’s a quality claim, there’s always a question of how are you measuring it? And this really clarifies all that.”

Looking toward the future, Vest and Sawai have optimistic views on the industry and attracting new talent. “In my 24-year career, it has been a great way for me to make a living. The industry is moving toward more of a clean manufacturing process. During the pandemic, this industry was strong and we were an essential business that worked. It’s the stability, the people, and from day one, you’re really thinking on a global scale because it is a global industry. It’s an exciting industry in that way.”

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